Few men have pushed harder for a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel than Reverend William Blackstone. Born in 1841, Reverend William E. Blackstone was an American Christian Zionist who saw the struggles and mass persecution of Russian Jewry and decided to selflessly dedicate himself to bringing them their civil and human rights. Though, Blackstone’s prominence and legacy come from his humanitarian efforts, he started out as a successful businessman outside of Chicago, Illinois and was an active member of the American Evangelical community.
As a young man, William Blackstone was rejected from serving in the Union Army during the American Civil War due to his “frail body,” instead joining the United States Christian Commission, a precursor to the Red Cross. In 1878, William Blackstone wrote “Jesus is Coming,” establishing himself as a source for Christian theology in the United States and around the world, selling millions of copies over the following 50 years with translations in 48 languages. His next and most important venture was to focus on the conditions of Jews in Czarist Russian. Within Russia, the Jewish community, numbering over two million, was subjected to constant discrimination as well as pogroms, or violent riots directed against the Jewish community. William Blackstone knew he has to act, his determination came not only from his Christian ideals, but also from his philosophy of humanitarianism.
In 1891, Blackstone wrote his famous petition called the “Blackstone Memorial.” The petition was addressed to American President Benjamin Harrison to use his goodwill with European nations, the Ottoman Empire and Russia to facilitate the release of Russian Jewry to the Land of Israel. According to William E. Blackstone: “Why shall not the powers which under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Servia (Serbia) to the Servians (Serbians) now give Palestine back to the Jews? These provinces, as well as Roumania (Romania), Montenegro and Greece, were wrested from the Turks (former Ottoman Empire) and given to their natural owners. Does not Palestine as rightfully belong to the Jews?”
The “Blackstone Memorial” was a major development in international relations and is noted as an American version of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. The Memorial received much praise, especially from future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, calling Blackstone the “Father of Zionism” since his efforts were prior to Theodor Herzl’s. Brandeis even requested a Second Memorial from Blackstone, which was privately presented to President Woodrow Wilson in 1917. The Blackstone Memorial proved to serve as a major influence to President Wilson’s expression of his and America’s support for the 1917 Balfour Declaration. While the petition did not break the glass ceiling of the time of granting European Jewry political and civil rights, it serves as an important footnote on history, especially since today Blackstone’s dream is a thriving reality.
The Friends of Zion Museum commemorates Reverend William E. Blackstone, a dreamer of what Israel could be and a man whose fight for the Jewish people was more than righteous and just. His influence with prominent leaders of his day, especially President Woodrow Wilson, proved to be dramatically influential and truly historically significant. Blackstone was a frontiersman in human rights and an American patriot with the foresight into the potential that Israel and her people held once they returned to their homeland.